SLIGO international show jumper Michael Kearins today vowed that he is completely innocent of any wrongdoing in a Mexican horse deal that went sour, stating he had absolutely nothing to do with it at any stage.
Videos of brothers Michael and Niall Kearins being roughly wrestled to the ground at gunpoint and handcuffed by a group of armed Mexican men have been widely shared on social media in recent weeks.
The Kearins brothers had their registration with the Mexican Equestrian Federation suspended on October 16th 2021 following a dispute with a Mexican national named Ana Estrella Sepulveda at the showgrounds of Club Hipico Coapexpan, where Michael was jumping in the international classes.
Attacked at gunpoint
Michael Kearins contacted The Irish Field today (Monday) to clarify the background to the incident. "I did not have anything to do with selling her that horse at any stage. The exact truth is that the mare was brought in from Europe from a yard there. X-rays from the vet of the horse in question were sent to Mexico and a vet report of the horse trotting up, and the horse passed with flying colours. However, when the horse arrived in Mexico, it was unsound, lame.
"My brother Niall was not informed (of a possible problem) and at the show on the Saturday after the Grand Prix, people turned up in the VIP area - three bodyguards and a lawyer. My brother said they would get their money back or a new horse and agreed a six-week window to do so. Another contract in Spanish was then pulled out and Niall said he was not signing anything if he did not know what it was.
"Three guys then pulled out guns and said you are not leaving until you sign. There were two eye witnesses there who saw everything. I asked them to get security. The guys held guns to our heads and asked us to sign the contract. We were wrongfully treated and physically attacked by them.
"The police arrived and we were brought to the police station. We were advised by the police to sign over one of our Grand Prix horses. Niall said he would do that there and then. We had to give her a Grand Prix 1.45m horse and she gave back the horse, about a 1.10m horse, to Niall.
"She (Ana Estrella Sepulveda) got her story into the Mexican Federation first and my lawyer, who is Mexican and into horses himself, contacted her and the Mexican Federation on our behalf. We expect to have the temporary suspension on us overturned shortly. A person from the Mexican Federation told me that they had to take some action as it was all so public at the show, it is a temporary thing, it is being worked on now and we expect to be allowed back," said Michael today (Monday).
On Sunday, he also clarified: "I never assaulted her in anyway, shape or form. That is a completely untrue statement with zero proof. Actually it was quite the opposite as you saw in the video that you referenced. Ana had her Mexican gang employees physically attack me with weapons. I was held at gunpoint and forced to give her my Grand Prix horse or they were threatening my life.
"I'm handling these issues with my attorney and eye witnesses who were there that evening at the VIP tent whom will testify on my and Niall Kearins' behalf. I was wrongfully treated and physically attacked," said Michael Kearins.
Mexican Equestrian Federation statement
In a statement, the Mexican Equestrian Federation said the Irish brothers were “no grata”, meaning not welcome. The statement, posted on their website, read: “It is with deep concern that we have been made aware of the [alleged] despicable acts perpetrated by Niall Kearins and Michael Kearins, both of Irish nationality, against Miss Ana Estrella Sepulveda, whom they [allegedly]physically assaulted on the premises of a riding club.
“We strongly condemn this type of cowardly, discriminatory and unjustified actions that go against all order and respect towards a person, an action that goes against the principles of healthy coexistence and respect between all the members of our federation, seriously violating the statutes that govern us.
“The Mexican Equestrian Federation considers these two people as not welcome and will temporarily suspend their registration, and based on these facts we call on all our members not to give them any facilities in any of its facilities.”
Not suspended by FEI
The FEI confirmed to The Irish Field that Michael Kearins (38) is not suspended by the FEI. A spokesperson said: “The FEI is aware of allegations of incidents taking place in Mexico concerning the Irish athlete Michael Kearins. We are currently looking into this matter and liaising with the Mexican and Irish National Federations. Please kindly note also that the FEI is not involved in any horse ownership disputes as they must be dealt with by the relevant National Federations (NFs are responsible to check the ownership of horses) and appropriate courts.”
A spokesperson for Horse Sport Ireland said they are engaging with the FEI and the Mexican National Federation. “Horse Sport Ireland have corresponded directly with Mr Michael Kearins in respect of the allegations and events that took place in Mexico.
“The correspondence outlined, inter alia, Horse Sport Ireland’s disappointment on reading the suspension notification as issued by the Mexico Equestrian Federation due to the alleged behaviour of this athlete. Horse Sport Ireland is obviously concerned that the alleged recent actions could give rise to bringing the sport into disrepute both domestically and internationally.
“Horse Sport Ireland is engaging with the FEI and the MEX NF on the matter. Horse Sport Ireland have moved to invoke the General Rules for an immediate response and onward referral to the appropriate forum to deal with such matters. Horse Sport Ireland understand that Showjumping Ireland have considered avenues available to them in the context of SJI Rulebook for national competition,” Friday’s Horse Sport Ireland statement added.
Convicted in court
In April 2019, Michael Kearins was convicted at Sligo Circuit Court of deception when a majority jury verdict found him guilty after evidence had been heard in a 'ringer' pony case that dated back to 2012. Detective Garda Joseph Scanlon said the complaint had been made by the Ewings on November 1st 2012 but he had been unable to make contact with the accused until June 2017 when he came home for a funeral.
In the five-day case, evidence was heard that Donegal-born businessman Sean Ewing and his wife Terry had agreed to buy two ponies off Kearins for their young children but when one of these ponies was no longer available, Michael Kearins delivered an inferior pony, who was also in poor health, to their Majorca home.
In December 2019, Judge Francis Comerford fined Michael Kearins, who had pleaded not guilty, €11,000. Compensation of €20,000 was paid by Kearins in the case with Mr Ewing estimating he had had to spent €24,687 in transport, veterinary fees and livery costs.
In a statement, Mr Ewing said that the case was never about money. "It was about holding Kearins to account for his years of avoidance, after executing a blatant fraud, while placing an innocent child at risk".
Judge Comerford said that one of the most unpleasant aspects of this case was the defendant's claim, which he accepted was untrue, was Michael Kearins's claim that the complainant's wife said she would accept a different pony to the one her husband agreed to buy.
Patrick O'Sullivan BL for Michael Kearins told Judge Comerford that his client fully accepted the verdict and also accepted that, at no time, was Mrs Terry Ewing willing to accept 'any horse sight unseen' as he had claimed in his evidence to the trial. He said his client was remorseful and wished to apologise.